Leadership 101: Giving Constructive Criticism at Work

Giving Constructive Criticism

Whether you’re new to the world of leadership or a seasoned Michael Scott, there’s one area which many find troublesome: giving criticism.

A taboo subject for business leaders

It takes nothing more than the words “performance review” to strike fear into many an employee’s heart. But it’s 2022: reviewing performance really shouldn’t be a once-a-year thing anymore. It should be an ongoing, two-way conversation during which ideas for improvement are shared, challenges are tackled, and  both short and long-term objectives are set.

Still, like it or not, there are going to be times where you need to give criticism. It can be an awkward situation to approach. There’s no knowing how this person will react or what the outcome might be. It can even come down to approaching it in the right way, at the right time, to ensure things go down well.

Giving constructive criticism in the workplace

It’s a challenging responsibility as a manager or leader, but an important one. There are certainly some dos and don’ts to giving feedback, particularly when it’s not the most positive.

It comes down to the following:

  • Timing

  • Understanding

  • Recognition

  • Intention

Read on as we expand these further.


Giving constructive criticism well begins with choosing your moment. This requires tact, empathy and foresight.

Consider your employee’s workload and schedule for the day. If their calendar is back-to-back with meetings, perhaps dragging them off in the moments between when things are frantic isn’t the best idea. If you know they’re really under the cosh on a project which is due soon, assuming this feedback won’t directly impact that, maybe wait until things cool off.

The timing of criticism can utterly determine how it’s taken – and how effective the outcome might be.


It couldn’t be more important to first gauge where this individual is at. Do they see the same issue that you do, or are they blissfully unaware? Is it something that’s been touched upon before? How do they feel about their performance?

By asking questions, you’re giving your team member a chance to catch up – no one likes being blindsided. Yes, it may lead to you  having to be a little more leading in some instances, but it’ll put you both closer to being on the same page, at least.


It can’t be all bad! Before launching into what isn’t working so well, talk about the positives. Recognise where your employee is doing great things and show appreciation for their contributions so far. Mention at least one or two areas where they’re adding value and thriving.

By giving them this reassurance and affirmation of their strengths, you’re letting them know that you value them. This will in turn – hopefully – help them take on board your feedback without feeling attacked or on the back foot.

Showing a little recognition can make all the difference in an otherwise uncomfortable situation.


Finally, finish by explaining why you’re telling them this. After all, criticism without purpose is no longer constructive, to put it quite frankly.

Tell your employee why you’ve brought it up, why it’s important, and what you’d like to see happen. Explain that your intention is to help them improve on X, Y or Z – that their best interests are at hand. Approach the subject of criticism as an ally, not a boss.

Building a culture of thriving feedback

By choosing the right moment, voicing the value you place in the individual and demonstrating that your intentions are truly constructive, giving criticism in the workplace becomes a breeze for any business leader. But feeding back shouldn’t just be about the negative – feedback should be a key pillar in any business’ company culture, for 2022 and beyond.

It’s a key method of improving employee engagement, whether manager-employee or peer-peer.

Building a strong company culture of feedback starts with hiring the right people – don’t hesitate to reach out to discuss recruitment plans, company culture or how it all fits together, today.

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